Accept that wait time is a good yardstick of health care efficiency then the question becomes what is the gold standard to measure health care wait times? The simple answer is that health care wait time should be from when the patient first decides to act on a problem until it is diagnosed or treated. Therefore, we need to survey patients to determine how long they’ve waited, not look to institutions that have a lot at risk by not meeting targets.
The problem is that the data can be easily “rigged” by the people or institutions to meet targets by not accepting referrals, decreasing patient accessibility or delaying diagnosis while waiting on tests. I believe this creates a “false negative” where waiting is truly happening when the “diagnostic test” shows that it is not. See the NHS doc blog about a situation where the NHS is trying to meet an 18 week deadline and the data is being manipulated or the BBC about ER’s leaving patients in ambulances to meet a 4-hour window imposed by the government. More statistics also increases the burden on staff and misses smaller institutions.
Once validated, patient surveys are inexpensive (if on-line) and accessible to most patients. They will increase variation but the shear number of survey’s should make for meaningful comparisons. It doesn’t matter whether it is cancer surgery or a headache once we have a gold standard, other more automated tools could be used to make measurements. But I don’t think they’ll be needed.